18 from South go to Kim’s tribute

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18 from South go to Kim’s tribute

Two small groups of South Koreans led by the widows of former President Kim Dae-jung and Hyundai Group Chairman Chung Mong-hun will leave for Pyongyang today to mourn North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s death.

Former first lady, Lee Hee-ho, 89, and Hyundai Group Chairwoman Hyun Jung-eun, 56, will spend two days in North Korea, the Ministry of Unification said yesterday. Lee will be accompanied by 12 people and Hyun will be accompanied by four. The 18 South Koreans will cross the western inter-Korean border tomorrow morning and head to Pyongyang via Kaesong, the ministry said.

No government officials from the South will accompany the delegations. “North Korea has guaranteed all measures to protect the personal safety of the civilian mourners and communication connections,” said Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Bo-sun.

While they will use South Korean vehicles to reach the North Korean Custom, Immigration and Quarantine checkpoint at the border, they are expected to switch to North Korean transportations for travel inside the North.

The ministry said the delegations will make a condolence call after arriving in Pyongyang. They will leave the North Korean capital tomorrow morning to visit Kaesong and then return to the South.

Lee’s group will visit the Kaesong Industrial Complex to tour two or three South Korean companies operating there.

The 13-member delegation led by Lee includes her two sons, her eldest daughter-in-law and grandson, a physician, staff members and bodyguards.

The government refused permission for Lee to bring along any politicians. She had initially asked to include Lim Dong-won, who was National Intelligence Service director in the Kim Dae-jung government, and Representative Park Jie-won, the closest aide to the late president. After intense debate, Lee said she would accept the government’s rejection.

“Although I have various worries, I respect the [South Korean] government’s decision to use my power, although it may be small, to improve inter-Korean relations,” Lee was quoted as saying by Choi Gyung-hwan, public affairs head of the Kim Dae-jung Peace Center.

The five-member Hyun delegation will include four executives of the Hyundai Group. Chang Kyung-chak, president and CEO of Hyundai Asan, and Kim Young-hyun, the company’s executive director in charge of inter-Korean tours, are among Hyun’s delegates.

Hyundai Asan is the inter-Korean business arm of the conglomerate and the operator of the now-suspended Mount Kumgang tours. It remains to be seen if Hyun’s visit will create a breakthrough in the group’s failing North Korea business.

Taking over the conglomerate after her husband’s death, Hyun visited the North and met Kim Jong-il three times. She was also the first South Korean business leader to offer condolences after Kim’s death.

After Hyundai Founder Chung Ju-yung visited the North in 1998, Hyundai Asan began the tours to Mount Kumgang in 2003, but the business was suspended after a South Korean tourist was shot dead by a soldier in July 2008. Although Hyun visited Pyongyang in 2009 and met with Kim to discuss the fate of the operation, tours have not been resumed. Hyundai Asan lost more than 510 billion won ($444 million) as of October due to the suspended tour programs.

As the handful of South Korean mourners prepared to cross the border, the North warned yesterday that it will decide the future course of inter-Korean relations based on the South Korean government’s attitude toward condolences over its late leader.

While the Lee Myung-bak administration expressed sympathy to the North Korean people and allowed the delegations led by Lee and Hyun to visit the North, no other South Koreans are allowed to go. The North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea criticized Seoul yesterday for trying to “quench the hot wind for condolence visits.”

“Their obstructions will entail unpredictable catastrophic consequences to the North-South relations,” a spokesman of the committee, a North Korean propaganda organ, was quoted as saying by the communist country’s Korean Central News Agency. “The nation will finally test the morality of the South Korean authorities.”

It also complained that Seoul only gave consolations to the North Korean people, not its government, calling it an attempt to “break the single-minded unity of the North Koreans.”

By Ser Myo-ja [myoja@joongang.co.kr]
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